Missouri Baptists ready for cloning court battle
By Allen Palmeri
December 27, 2005
JEFFERSON CITY – A Jan. 19 hearing before Cole County Senior Judge Byron Kinder will focus on the inception of life as it pertains to a lawsuit supported by pro-life groups – including the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) – that challenges the veracity of a ballot initiative calling for constitutional protection of embryonic stem cell research – or cloning.
Cindy Province, a Missouri Baptist bio-ethicist who is named along with the MBC Executive Board in the lawsuit against Missouri’s secretary of state that is before Kinder, is pleased that the case has a clear storyline. The plaintiffs will argue that somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) is human cloning; the defendants will argue that it is not.
“This is what the whole issue hinges on,” she said. “There is no reasonable scientific dispute that SCNT is cloning unless you are in the political arena. When a scientist is in the laboratory, every scientist understands that somatic cell nuclear transfer is a cloning technique, and yet when scientists come into a courtroom or a legislative hearing room, suddenly they start testifying that somatic cell nuclear transfer is not cloning.
“We can’t allow the Constitution of Missouri to be amended on the basis of word games. We have to get the definition straight.”
Based on his Dec. 15 decision to allow the case to proceed, Kinder is at least in partial agreement. The judge said that there are terms in the initiative that even he is not familiar with, and that this is an unusual case that is more than just a simple ballot dispute on some relatively minor issue. He even said that he would be willing to hear more expert testimony Jan. 20, if need be, on the inception of human life, as long as it is not repetitive.
In other words, the proposed ballot summary written by Secretary of State Robin Carnahan is very much in question at this point.
“This is a matter of great public interest,” Kinder said. “We’re talking about changing the Constitution of this state.”
Proponents of the initiative, mainly some leaders in the academic, political and business sectors of the state, see the lawsuit as nothing more than a nuisance that has temporarily halted their signature gathering. The group they back, the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, posted a Dec. 16 update that brushed aside the merits of the lawsuit. “We expect the court will deal with it quickly,” declared one post on their Web site. The group needs to collect 150,000 signatures by May 9 to get the initiative on the November 2006 ballot.
“There’s some arrogance there,” Province said. “There’s some blindness there in terms of just not looking at the facts. It’s just not intellectually honest to use the term ‘cloning’ one way in the lab and another way in the media, and yet that’s what they’re doing. Eventually, that duplicity is going to come out.”
The pro-life Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) is acting as the lead counsel for the plaintiffs. David C. LaPlante, an ADF attorney from Olathe, Kan., is head of a two-man team that is being supported by Larry Weber, attorney for six Catholic bishops in Missouri, and Michael Whitehead, MBC lead counsel. LaPlante agreed with Province that the case boils down to the judicial interpretation of two competing definitions of SCNT – by two different sets of experts – that will be presented in the courtroom Jan. 19.
“We want to put forth expert testimony that somatic cell nuclear transfer is human cloning,” LaPlante said. “Voters in Missouri, if they are going to vote for this, to amend the Constitution, will know they are voting for human cloning in Missouri.”